"C’est pas possible." That was the advice given to New Yorker Adelina Wong Ettelson a while back when she tried to purchase a pair of Jackie O sunglasses at a well-respected boutique in Paris.
Some time later and an ocean away, I can relate. Last year 113 million pairs of sunglasses were purchased across the United States. I was not one of those buyers, though not for lack of trying. A native of Miami, I’ve always had a thing for shades, but it’s a love-hate relationship. Love, because who can deny the cool appeal that comes with wearing the right sunglasses? On the flip side, chances are slim that I’ll find frames to fit my Asian facial features. The problems: a lower nose bridge and higher cheekbones than most Caucasians—for whom the majority of sunglasses sold in the United States are designed. Glasses tend to slide down my nose to rest uncomfortably on my cheeks or, as in the case of one Roberto Cavalli pair I tried recently, slip completely off my face to the floor.
Certainly it’s always dangerous to generalize about ethnicity-related matters. But ask around. My own anecdotal queries suggest that this is a topic to which many Asians can relate.
“You push sunglasses up, you walk a little bit and they come down again,” complains Vivienne Tam. “The bottom edge cuts into my cheekbones,” laments New York artist Annamarie Ho. Marketing consultant Susan Shin, meanwhile, has makeup-oriented grievances: “I have to rely on my cheeks to hold [the glasses] up, and my blush gets all messed up. When I blink, my lashes scrape against the plastic and I end up with mascara there.”
Not all gripes are cosmetic. Twinkle designer Wenlan Chia notes that often sunglasses drop so low, “my [line of] vision is one big frame.” Even comedian Margaret Cho has her own expletive-laced rant on the topic, titled “My Skull Is Such,” on her Web site. She writes: “Why can’t I, an Asian American woman, find a decent pair of glasses that will a) fit my face, b) not give me a migraine whenever I put them on, c) not slide down my nose, d) not give me acne in the spots where the kidney-shaped pads are placed on the glasses, as if that would help me keep the glasses on my ‘misshapen’ misadventure of a head...”
While plenty of people will sacrifice fit and even optimum vision for appearance, some women say, “No way.” According to accessories designer Joy Gryson, “Comfort is totally important. Otherwise it’s not worth it.”
China Chow, daughter of the famously bespectacled Mr. Chow, buys into that theory. Before she plunks down the plastic, she auditions the glasses. “I smile very wide to see if they’re going to move; that’s the test,” she explains, adding that the frames most likely to pass are aviators. In fact, that style and other metal variations were oft recommended by those interviewed for this story, including women of Asian descent and eyewear professionals. Cases in point: designer Thuy Diep and accessories designer Sang A Im-Propp, who both swear by their Ray-Bans with adjustable-wire nose pads.